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Emotional Beats | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

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Last month, I mentioned the launch of Emotional Beats: How to Easily Convert your Writing into Palpable Feelings. As promised, here is the next installment from the book. It lists beats you can use to convey:

Fear and Nervousness (part 2)

Physical symptoms

These are some of the things that may happen when a person is scared or nervous:

  • They may feel hot or cold, may shiver or sweat.
  • The breathing changes. Usually, it becomes faster and shallower, though for some people it may deepen and slow down.
  • The palms may become damp, the mouth dry, the stomach tight, the throat clogged.
  • The voice may change: A rushed voice. An off-pitch laugh. A voice that breaks, drops or raises in pitch; a change in speech patterns.
  • Micro hesitations may show fear: delayed speech, throat clearing, slow reaction time.
  • A forced smile, laugh or verbally agreeing/disagreeing in a way that does not seem genuine is common. This is usually because of so-called cancelling gestures: smiling but stepping back; saying no but reaching out, etc. Other things that may indicate false smiles include a lack of eye contact or purposefully ignoring someone or something.
  • A closed body posture is also a tell: body shielding, arms crossing chest, using the hair to hide the face, etc.
  • Nervous people may increase their personal space, e.g. by withdrawing from a group, sitting alone etc.
  • Some may try to place furniture (e.g. a chair) between them and whatever scares them.
  • A person’s hands may fiddle with items, clothing, and jewelry, or smooth out items. A person may also perform self-soothing touches to comfort.
  • People may hide their hands in some way (e.g. put them in their pockets). This may be because their hands are shaking.
  • A stiff posture and movements is common, as the person will remain too still and composed.
  • Alternatively, they may rush away (the flight instinct kicking in), or make excuses to leave or avoid a situation.
  • Sweating or trembling is common, as is a tautness in the muscles or jaw line.
  • Nervous people may either grow inanimate and contribute less to conversation or else talk non-stop and faster than usual.
  • Passive-aggressive responses are common; for example verbal responses that seem to have double meanings or sound sarcastic.
  • People may attempt to intimidate others into dropping a subject.
  • Overreacting  to something said or done in jest is also a common tell of nervousness.
  • There may be tightness around the eyes or mouth. This betrays the strain of keeping emotion under wraps.
  • Fear can make a person yawn, although this may also suggest boredom.
  • The skin reacts. There may be goose bumps. The little hairs may stand up in some places. Often, there’s an itch, most commonly on the head, though it can occur anywhere. This itch may be very inconvenient when someone tries hard not to move.
  • The stomach may clench, churn, or feel like it’s filled with ice.
  • Smokers may desperately crave a cigarette.
  • Some people feel fear in strange places; e.g. the fillings of their teeth hurt.
  • During prolonged apprehension, pressure on the bladder builds, resulting in an urge to use the bathroom. In moments of panic, the bladder may open. In a state of terror, the bowels may loosen.
  • It might sound like a cliché, but you can see your life flash before your eyes.
  • People in dangerous situations may have a bitter taste in their  mouth.  Their sense of smell may be amplified, and they open their nostrils as much as possible to try and catch any whiff of danger. In the face of danger, people may freeze at first, then react aggressively a moment later.
  • The heart beats faster; harder; louder. The person may hear or feel their own heart beat in unusual places: in their ears, in their throat, in their mouth.
  • Breath is loud in one’s ears.
  • People may feel stiff, frozen, or unable to move.
  • People may flatten their back against a wall, trying to make themselves invisible.
  • Their stomach may tighten and feel twisted up inside.


  • The sound set off an avalanche of uncontrollable shivers.
  • He fidgeted as though chills were running up and down his spine.
  • Trembling in her grief, she stared blindly away, wiping errant tears.
  • A feverish chill tingled down his spine.
  • A chill touched the base of her spine and traveled all the way up to her scalp.
  • A shiver spiraled down his spine.
  • Goose pimples shivered down her spine.
  • A chill tiptoed down her neck.
  • Chills chased up his back.
  • An icy chill curled up his spine.
  • She felt a tingle up her spine.
  • A chill sauntered down his spine.
  • Fear skittered up his spine.
  • A rush of fear mingled with his blood.


  • He scoffed.
  • He smirked.
  • The corners of her mouth curled upwards into a sneer.
  • Bloodless lips twisted in a mockery of a smile.
  • A thin-lipped mouth curled into a sneer.
  • The thin line that was his mouth curled with sadistic pleasure.
  • She plastered on a smile.
  • He chuckled halfheartedly, a forced smile playing at the corner of his lips. The mirth didn’t reach his eyes.
  • A little cocky smirk appeared on her face.
  • He sneered [made a mocking grimace].
  • His mouth twisted into a smirk.
  • She managed to turn the corners of her mouth upward and give half a nod.
  • His face divided into a nervous grin.
  • His smile fell away.
  • She offered one of those forced smiles meant to conceal disdain.
  • His grin came lopsided, like the two sides of his face couldn’t agree on any one particular expression.
  • His grin went snakelike.
  • A nervous smile played along the edges of her full lips.
  • He hung a lopsided grin on his face.
  • He twisted his grin into a smirk.
  • The tip of his tongue traced his lips, toning down his grin to a fool’s smirk.
  • Wicked grins curled around serpentine lips; forked tongues tasted the air: a mouse had wandered into their nest.
  • Rage murked his gaze.
  • A smirk most evil bent his lips.
  • A nervous smile broke on his face.


  • Bile bubbled up from his stomach.
  • Sick rose to her mouth.
  • Gorge rose to his mouth.
  • He had to suppress a wave of nausea.
  • The ball of worry and foreboding twisted in his stomach like a fist trying to bury itself into his ribcage.
  • His stomach tightened.
  • His stomach flopped.
  • She felt a little rush of butterflies in her stomach.
  • She stood there, the butterflies turning to knots.
  • Vomit started to bubble from her stomach.
  • Tendrils of terror curled into her stomach.
  • A ball of fear formed in his stomach.
  • His stomach knotted.
  • His stomach swelled with fear.
  • His stomach tightened.
  • A million butterflies took motion inside my belly, their gossamer wings stroking my soul. Then, he spoke and every one of those happy butterflies went still.
  • Her belly went tight with knots strong enough to hold back even the wildest of horses.
  • Her belly turned to water.
  • Panic jabbed hard at her stomach.


  • A sheen of sweat was visible on her brow.
  • Sweat clung to his brow.
  • A fine sheen of sweat shone on his upper lip.
  • Beads of cold sweat formed on his forehead.
  • Beads of sweat popped out on his forehead.
  • Her brow perspired.
  • He wiped the moisture developing at his brow.
  • Cold sweat glued his shirt to his back.
  • Cold sweat trickled down her sides.
  • The lack of expression on his face belied the sweat trickling down his spine.
  • Sweat erupted on his forehead and he shuddered, gripping her arm to keep from stumbling.
  • Sweat beaded on his forehead and broke out on his back as he swallowed hard.
  • Sweat beaded around his hairline.
  • An achingly lonely bead of sweat skittered down my spine until it disappeared against the snug waist of my dress.
  • Sweat rushed down her back.
  • A lonely drop of sweat sashayed down her spine. It danced with her attention just long enough for her to glimpse him unguarded.
  • Sweat trickled down her neck, beaded up along her spine.
  • A bead of sweat like a lover’s fingertip traced her spine beneath her blouse.

Throat, neck, and shoulders

  • She tensed her shoulders.
  • The sight made the back of his neck tingle.
  • Panic clawed at his throat.
  • His breath audibly hitched in his throat.
  • Her neck was flexing.
  • Her face shook as pink rose up her cheeks.
  • Bile burned the back of his throat. He inhaled deeply against it.
  • Fear clogged his throat.
  • His pulse pounded in his throat.
  • She felt her sweaty neck.
  • He spat to clear the rasp from his voice.
  • He swallowed the sudden lump in his throat.
  • She swallowed hard at a tangle of words stuck in her throat.
  • Angry bile stung her throat.
  • A lump got caught in her throat and promised to choke off air.
  • Her throat squeezed down on a scream.

Next week: indifference. View all posts on the subject, or buy the book on Amazon – free on KU!